Tuesday, March 06, 2012

how to caramelize onions

 Sadly, there are in this world a number of recipes that call for caramelized onions, yet offer no advice as to how to get those onions to turn sweet and brown.  They may offer an offhand "cook onions for 30 minutes until browned" or something equally cavalier.  As if it were that easy. 

Awhile back, I decided to crack the code and learn to make properly caramelized onions and my life hasn't been the same since.  I thought I'd share the process, in case anyone else is in the mood for life-change. 

Step 1: slice a few onions.  The onions will cook down a lot and it's kind of a long process, so you may want to make a bunch and then use them for different recipes throughout the week (in quiche, on pizza, in mashed potatoes, on a sandwich...).  I have read that it matters which direction you slice the onion.  In my experience, it does not. 

Step 2: heat oil in a skillet until shimmering and hot.  I use medium to medium-low heat (between 3 and 5 on my stove) for this step, and the whole process. 

Step 3: Add the onions to the skillet and stir to coat them with the oil. 

Step 4: Add a generous pinch of salt.  This helps the onions with the sweating process.  You want the onions to sweat out most of their water, so that the sugars can start to brown. 

Step 5: DO NOT over stir.  You will be tempted.  It will seem unnatural to leave something cooking for so long without stirring.  But I'm telling you- this is part of the secret.  The onions should be gently sizzling as they cook on medium-low heat.  They shouldn't stick to the pan too much.  If they do, turn your heat down a bit. 

Step 6: keep an eye on them.  I stir my onions about every 10 minutes.  It takes me about an hour to finish cooking them.  That's the other secret- you can't rush that sugary sweetness that comes from a slow cook over low heat. 

Step 7: scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the skillet as you go.  I've heard people say you can add a little balsamic vinegar or wine or even water if the onions start to stick too much.  I've never had good luck with this.  If the bottom of my pan starts to get too brown, I turn the heat down a little more.  You will also want to stir a bit more often towards the end of the cooking process.

Step 8: Stop shortly before you think you're done.  The onions never seem to get as brown as I imagine they will, and that is okay.  Just taste one and you'll know that they're ready.  Ready to make your food amazing. 

Today I've been making a 30 foot long one of these that looks super cute stretched across the living room.  I'll be sad to see it go! 

1 comment:

  1. One of my brother's friends, Sam, taught me how to caramelize onions when I was in college. He was in culinary school & is now the head chef at a restaurant just outside of Raleigh. Anyways - I agree - it takes a lot of patience & it's completely worth it in the end. :-)



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